ISLAMABAD: The US on Friday welcomed the “positive developments” leading to the imminent start of intra-Afghan talks, after the Taliban indicated that negotiations could commence within a week. In a series of tweets, Zalmay Khalilzad, Washington’s special envoy for Afghanistan, urged all sides to start the talks “immediately” and “prevent spoilers from undermining the process.”
“We welcome the Taliban statement specifying they will participate in IAN [intra-Afghan negotiations] within one week of the prisoner release commitment outlined in our agreement. Although many practical details need to be worked out, these developments are all very positive,” he said.
He said the intra-Afghan talks were a “key objective” of the US’ diplomacy and hailed the ongoing prisoner exchanges that were a prerequisite for the negotiations.
“Prisoner releases have reached a new milestone. We welcome the government now having exceeded 3000 Talib prisoners released and the Taliban 500+. It is important that the process continues and the prisoners release roadblock resolved,” Khalilzad said.
Earlier, the spokesperson for the Taliban’s Qatar office said the group was committed to the prisoner exchange process and “has preparedness to start intra-Afghan negotiations within [a] week.”
However, he reiterated that the government must release 5,000 Taliban prisoners as agreed in the Doha agreement with the US before the talks. Last week, Abdullah Abdullah, the man tasked to lead Kabul’s negotiating team, said talks with the Taliban are likely to begin by mid-June.
Pakistan, another key player in the Afghan peace push, also seems to be preparing for the coming intra-Afghan negotiations. Islamabad has appointed senior diplomat Mohammad Sadiq Khan, who served as ambassador to Afghanistan from 2008 to 2014, as special envoy to facilitate the peace process a move hailed by Kabul.
Earlier this week, Pakistan’s military and intelligence chiefs also visited Kabul to meet President Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah.